All eyes will be on the Aam Aadmi Party when the counting of votes polled in the Gujarat assembly elections begins on Thursday as the outcome will determine the fate of the Arvind Kejriwal led party's national ambition.
Aiming to breach the Bharatiya Janata Party's Gujarat bastion, the Aam Aadmi Party fielded its candidate to contest all 182 assembly seats and carried out a high decibel campaign in the run-up to the polls in Gujarat.
During the campaign, the party positioned itself and its national convenor Kejriwal as the sole challenger of the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi respectively.
The results of the high stakes polls in Modi's home state will determine whether the AAP could successfully elbow out the Congress as number two in the tally and emerge as the principal challenger of the BJP.
The feat, if achieved, will also determine the role that Kejriwal would play in stopping the Modi juggernaut in 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
Already recognised as the state party in Delhi, Punjab and Goa, the AAP is just a state away from earning the national party status.
To earn a national party status, a political outfit needs to be recognized in at least four states, and to be recognised as a state party, it needs to win at least two seats and 6 per cent of votes polled in the Assembly election.
In other words, AAP needs to win just two seats and secure 6 per cent of votes in Thursday's voting.
A national party tag will be a boost for the AAP's national ambition even if, as predicted by the exit polls, it doesn't make a big splash in Gujarat.
Exit polls, released Monday, predicted BJP winning big in Gujarat -- 117 to 151 seats in the 182-member legislative assembly -- and placed the main opposition Congress at the second spot, winning 16 to 51 seats.
The AAP is seen finishing third, with a seat tally that could range between 2 to 13.
“The AAP has gained traction in Gujarat and it appears to be winning some seats in the assembly polls. It will be a big victory for the AAP even if it bags 10-15 seats as no third political party joining the fray could do so in Gujarat so far,” Praveen Rai, a political analyst at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, told PTI.
More so, it comes on the back of a spectacular win in the civic body elections in Delhi, where the AAP unseated BJP, winning 134 of the 250 wards of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi that went to polls on December 4.
The BJP, which had controlled the MCD for 15 long years, could win only 104 wards, according to votes counted on Wednesday.
“The AAP may win around 12 seats -- 2-3 in Surat, 7-8 in Saurashtra, two in the tribal belt, and a few surprises here and there in north and central Gujarat,” Dilip Gohil, a political analyst based in Ahmedabad, told PTI.
The AAP is hoping to win more seats than what has been projected by the exit polls and political analysts.
“Poll results will prove all the exit polls wrong on December 8,” AAP Gujarat unit's chief spokesperson Yogesh Jadvani asserted when asked for his comment.
Referring to an internal assessment of the party carried out on a daily basis at booth levels across Gujarat, he claimed that AAP will win more than 45 seats out of a total 89 which went to polls in the first phase on December 1.
“We are winning 6 seats in Surat and more than 30 seats in Saurashtra,” he said, adding, “We are yet to analyse the data collected from the remaining seats.”
Riding high on its stupendous victory in Punjab assembly polls earlier this year, the Arvind Kejriwal-led party launched its foray into BJP-ruled Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh as part of its national expansion plan.
Although the AAP fielded its candidates for all Assembly seats in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, it has kept its prime focus on PM Modi's home state where it has been able to build a few strongholds in recent years.
The party gained ground in the BJP-ruled Gujarat after it won 27 seats in the 2021 Surat Municipal Corporation elections.
The Congress, which had 36 councillors, lost all the seats in the civic body election.
Seeking to expand its footprint, the AAP plans to contest in most of the states going to polls next year.
That includes Congress-ruled Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan and BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka. The party also plans contest elections in Jammu and Kashmir, likely to be held early next year.